Franklin Balao

Franklin Balao Oral History Interview

Name of interviewee: Franklin Balao

Location: Fremont, CA

Date: November 20, 2019

Summary

In America, a lot of ethnic foods have become extremely popular in many areas. However, they have also been altered to fit more “American” standards. This can become a problem as it can erase the cultural stories that some foods hold. For our project, we decided to dive into decolonizing food in hopes to raise awareness of this problem. We conducted an interview with Franklin Balao of Fremont. Franklin enjoys fishing down at Halfmoon Bay and enjoys cooking foods that stay true to his Filipinx ways. 

In order to educate others on this topic, different sources were looked at to analyze and conduct adequate research. In Decolonize Your Diet, Luz Calvo and Rueda Esquibel define decolonizing food as reverting back to what different cultures used to eat, as opposed to eating foods that have been processed and changed to fit an American standard. They also argue that decolonizing food can be seen as refusing to “eat anything that your grandmother wouldn’t recognize” (Calvo & Rueda Esquibel, 25). This insinuates that people should not be eating over processed foods that have in turn erased the cultural significance they once had. In a similar piece titled Eating Asian American, author Drew Mabalon writes that Filipinos have a different mindset when it comes to eating foods and food waste. In her research, Mabalon found that Filipinos often ate what was accessible to them, because they thought that being hungry was selfish. They stated that they never complained, “‘How come fish all the time?”’ (Mabalon, 151). This is also an introduction to our findings with our interviewee Franklin, who enjoys fishing and eating foods that are indigenous to his culture. We also looked at sources from Aileen Suzara, who uses her education to write about how to cook healthy and indigenous Filipinx food. In her article Decolonizing Filipinx Foods: Kamote, Suzara writes about how to decolonize food by using traditional recipes. Suzara builds on this by arguing that from her own findings with decolonizing food, “the research only reaffirmed the work to build health in ways that are both culturally resonant and community-driven. And it was a reminder of something else: to value and renew the roots of Filipinx food traditions. I’ve heard Filipinx food blamed for diabetes, hypertension, heart disease. And relatives – or even health practitioners – ruefully say: “Filipino food is good for the soul, but bad for the heart” (Suzara). In reclaiming Filipinx food roots, Suzara argues against the statement that says health and culture are incompatible. By doing so, one can “harness our healthy roots instead” (Suzara).

An interview guide was prepared in order to ask questions that would reflect decolonizing food, food systems and more. Our interviewee was then asked these questions in hopes of gaining knowledge and perspective from someone who practices cultural ways. The problems of assimilated foods were explored through questions such as 

  • Many people would argue that Filipino food is unhealthy, how do you feel about Filipino food in regards to health?
  • How do you think the media portrays Filipino food?
  • Since the time you have immigrated to America, would you say you have assimilated to American culture? Why or why not? In what ways regarding your food?
  • Nowadays, it is more common to buy seafood. Why do you choose to go fishing, crabbing etc? How does it benefit you or those around you?
  • Can you draw a comparison between those who fish and those who do not? 

Analysis

During the interview, Franklin Balao credits his culture as the main factor regarding the way he cooks now and why he enjoys fishing for fresh seafood. He believes that nothing beats the fresh quality of the seafood, and also states that supermarket quality seafood is nowhere near that of going out and fishing for your own food. This is actually a good way to decolonize food, as he goes out and practices his fishing as he did when he was younger – it ties back to his Filipino culture. Franklin also said that he learned fishing from residing near a river in the Philippines during his childhood. When practicing cultural ways, one should stay away from the assimilation of certain foods. Franklin Balboa mentioned that his mom taught him how to cook when he was young, as his culture requires that they know how to cook well. Since Filipinos are very family oriented, he stated that people respect each other and live together even after marriage and into early adulthood. They also love to eat and practice indigenous cooking styles for big celebrations. He also said he would prefer homemade food over any processed foods from restaurants. Learning how to cook from his experiences with his mother and joining the U.S. Navy as a chef, Franklin transforms the way he cooks over the years to his own environment. Using available resources in the Philippines, most including fish and vegetables, and coming to America to cook American food, he was able to adapt and maintain his foodways. With his passion and love for food, he is able to integrate his Filipino and American foodways to create a healthy balance of his own. By actively going to fish for halibut, tuna, or dungeness crab, and growing his own vegetables at home, Franklin is able to express his foodways beyond the simplicity of cooking by sharing the rewards of his own efforts with those around him. Fishing is Franklin Balboa’s passion. He takes a lot of pride in doing what he does. With fishing and crabbing also comes cooking and staying true to his culture. He grew up in the Philippines eating and fishing. He grew to love it so he takes a lot of pride and loves what he does. Tradition is one of the main themes that resurfaces throughout this interview. Tradition is why and how we do the things we do based on our cultures and values. Franklin Balao referred to tradition a lot during the interview, stating that “That’s just the way we did things so this is how I do things now.” Franklin reflected on his childhood, saying that they would cook fresh food almost every day. He notes that this is why the tradition of going to catch fresh seafood and returning home to prepare a meal for the family is something he has become accustomed to, because it’s something he has done his whole life. 

Key Words

Indigenous – Producing, growing, living or occurring natively or naturally in a particular region or environment. 

Decolonizing – To free from colonial status.

Alienation – A withdrawing or separation of a person or person’s affections from an object or position of former attachment. 

Solidarity – Unity that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards. 

Culture – The integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity of learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations. 

Tradition – The handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction, cultural continuity. 

Pride – The quality or state of being proud, such as:

  • Inordinate self-esteem, conceited 
  • a reasonable or justifiable self-respect.
  • delight or elation arising from some act, possession, or relationship. 

Baon – (Tagalong) Food that is taken in a bag or box to school, work, or on a journey; Money used to buy lunch or snacks.

Cultural Assimilation – The process of which a minority group or culture comes to resemble a dominant group or assume the values, behaviors, and beliefs or another group. 

Food System – Food as material items and symbols of identity, and history of groups ways with food. 

Annotated Bibliography

“As American as Jackrabbit Adobo.” Eating Asian America: a Food Studies Reader. NYU Press, 2013.

In this chapter of  “Eating Asian America” Dawn Mabalon explores his ethnic foodways before World War II. He refers to his foodway as his identity and history, as it more than just the simple acts of cooking and eating. Living in the philippines, people like Mabalon and the writer, Calros Bulosan’s, experience their foodways through times of survival, with a specific and limited diet. Mabalon states, “For Filipinas/os in the province, a met offish, rice, and vegetables was not monotonous and tiresome; only hunger was unbearable. True hardship meant having no food at all.” They witness their traditional foodways being changed or adapted due to their environment. For instance, when Filipina/o workers were in Alaska they were able to make do with what they had, like utilizing salmon and even bears.

Aranas, Allen Mark, and Allen Mark Aranas. “Filipino-American Chef Aileen Suzara Reclaims Culture and Tradition Through Food.” Kubo, 23 Apr. 2019, https://wearekubo.com/filipino-american-chef-aileen-suzara-reclaims-culture-and-tradition-through-food/.

This article comes from Filipino American Allen Mark Aranas writer, wrote this article while he was pursuing his education in UC Santa Cruz, who is raised in Bay Area. He touched the issue almost every immigrant family face in America. How culture difference affected their life style and their eating habit shifted into more Americanized processed products such as spam and sausages rather than the homemade cooked meals. However, his article about Filipino-American chef Aileen Suzara’s experience throughout her food journey. She was different than any other kids in her age, her interest was very much into Filipino food and the recipes, cookbooks, she even asked her mom to help.  Allen also mentioned that Aileen not only focused on making indigenous food itself but also she noticed there’s story behind every dish and it heals people too. Aileen’s goal was to attended many culinary programs, training in organic farming, Seeds/Search and Filipino/American Coalition of Environmental Solidary (FACES).

Kauffman, Jonathan. “The Bay Area’s Filipino Food Movement Sparks a National Conversation.” SFChronicle.com, San Francisco Chronicle, 8 Jan. 2016, https://www.sfchronicle.com/food/article/The-Bay-Area-s-Filipino-Food-Movement-sparks-a-6744227.php.

In “The Bay Area’s Filipino Food Movement Sparks a National Conversation”  by Jonathan Kauffman, he sheds light on the Filipino Food Movement, founded by Joanne Boston, which has become more than what it is set out for Boston and her peers would describe the goal of this movement as a form of representation, “they want Filipino food to mirror who they are.” In other forms, this movement has become a way to provide support, the underlying factors that can depict Filipino food as “dense” take tolls on food insecurities; But the movement uses their power to support cooks, chefs, and businesses like food trucks.

Liwanag-Bledsoe, Malou. “Changing Our Perception of ‘Unhealthy’ Filipino Food.” Asian Journal News, 13 Mar. 2019, http://www.asianjournal.com/life-style/eat-drink/changing-our-perception-of-unhealthy-filipino-food/.

This source is an extension of the article below this one, which also goes on about Aileen Suzara’s advice on how to make healthy Filipinx food and ignore stereotypes about how that food may be unhealthy. However, this source is a little more rich with information as opposed to an opinion piece. Liwanag-Bledsoe writes, “Sariwa has grown as a food business since 2016, with the support of La Cocina, a nonprofit that supports low-income women, people of color and immigrants.  Aside from this, Sariwa brings workshops and food demos to schools, clinics and public events, as well as collaborates with community organizations.” This can be used for our research by applying it to what we want our audience to draw from our oral history report, which is awareness to decolonizing food.

McKibben, Sue Halpern and Bill. “Filipino Cuisine Was Asian Fusion Before ‘Asian Fusion’ Existed.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 May 2015, www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/filipino-cuisine-asian-fusion-180954947/.

 

This source comes from Sue Halpern and Bill Mckibben who, write books and articles that range from therapy dogs to climate change.The article “Filipino  Cuisine Was Asian Fusion Before ‘Asian Fusion’ Existed”, is about how filipino food has been around for a really long time and is still overlooked. LAs Vegas is one of the first places that filipino food hit in America. Bill and Sue take multiple interviews with filipino restaurants and people who immigrated here and cooked for a living. One strong statement used is “filipino food is hard”, meaning it’s hard to make and people get scared to eat what they don’t know. Filipino chefs advertise their fried chicken and spaghetti to appeal to the American audience. It’s a good source because it shows that there’s a reason that sticking to our cultural cooking is difficult.

Pandika, Melissa. “Aileen Suzara Is Flipping the Script About ‘Unhealthy’ Filipino Food.” Bon Appétit, Bon Appétit, 8 Mar. 2018, https://www.bonappetit.com/story/aileen-suzara

In “Aileen Suzara Is Flipping the Script About ‘Unhealthy’ Filipino Food” by Melissa Pandika, she interviews Aileen Suzara, an activist and educator, about health and wellness while also cooking lugaw. Suzara explains that cooking and wellness go hand in hand, it should help you thrive and celebrate. She finds alternatives and solutions to comments about her choice of food because many people would argue that Filipino food is unhealthy. Suzara calls attention to other people’s  knowledge about food and how they can apply it to their own recipes to make it healthier.

 

Suzara, Aileen. “Decolonizing Filipinx Foods: Kamote.” Hella Pinay, Hella Pinay, 28 Feb. 2017, http://www.hellapinay.com/blog/2017/2/28/decolonizing-filipinx-foods-kamote.

This source comes from Aileen Suzara, who is an educator, writer and chef. Suzara writes about how to decolonize food by going into more traditional ways of cooking Filipinx food. One strong statement used is “the research only reaffirmed the work to build health in ways that are both culturally resonant and community-driven. And it was a reminder of something else: to value and renew the roots of Filipinx food traditions. I’ve heard Filipinx food blamed for diabetes, hypertension, heart disease. And relatives – or even health practitioners – ruefully say: “Filipino food is good for the soul, but bad for the heart.” In reclaiming Filipinx food roots, we can challenge any stereotypes that say health and culture are incompatible, and harness our healthy roots instead.” Suzara also goes on with a traditional recipe for a Filipinx dish. For our research and upcoming interview, this can be used as a point of view from someone of Filipino descent. It’s a good source for that reason, but is arguably not a large point for actual research. 

 

Tiara, Creatrix. “Decolonization and Alienation: Why I Find My Peers’ Politics Unrelatable.” Medium, Medium, 20 Apr. 2016, medium.com/@creatrixtiara/decolonization-and-alienation-why-i-find-my-peers-politics-unrelatable-6de743a7471f.

This source is more of a personal opinion on decolonization from an overall aspect and how it may affect their outlook on their friend’s politics. However, it’s a piece written from the opposite point of view – they can’t really relate to all this talk of decolonizing things and getting back to their roots. To Creatix, it feels almost romanticized. Creatix writes, “Sometimes efforts at decolonization come off as exotifying or romanticizing the homeland, or reducing it to particular unrepresentative facets. For instance, South Asia often just gets reduced to a particular cultural area of India that’s Hindu-centric and I think also limited to a particular caste.” This could be interesting to write about because it suggests that decolonization should be genuine, which may be difficult to do in certain situations. Although this may not be used for our research, it’s important to look at all sides when trying to bring awareness to something.

 

 Sue Halpern May 2015“Filipino Cuisine was Asian fusion before “Asian fusion existed”- Smithsonian.com  

As we all know this generation is obsessed with food whether it be eating it or taking pictures of it for social media, food blogs or just for our personal use. People in the food industry are definitely taking advantage of this by coming out with a lot of fusion restaurants or even bring fusion foods into their restaurants.  This article touched the staple foods in Filipino culture like Adobo or Pancit  just to name a few . This article dove deep and told us how these dishes were originated, what year and what special occasions these special dishes are cooked for. I never realized how much history lies deep within Filipino culture after this I have a greater appreciation for Filipino food and culture.  

  Colleen Grace , October 25th ,2017“Adobo Heals: Healing herbs in Filipino cooking” – Hellapinay.com 

This article was bringing to life the healing properties in Filipino food. Filipinos have always used food as a way of healing. However, they mainly relied on herbs and doctors to cure them from their illnesses but some Filipinos started realizing that they could save money and essentially heal themselves with a little effort. So, some Filipino’s started cooking with vegetables and healing herbs to fix simple things and prevent some sicknesses. For example, Ginger is found in some staple Filipino foods but they started putting it in their food because they found that ginger helped with things like Nausea, inflammation and digestion. This article showed how members of a community put their heads together to save money but most importantly keep their loved ones healthy. 

 Chase Valencia September 29th ,2016“How traders, travelers and colonization shaped Filipino cuisine” kcet.org

This article showed how many different factors contributed to the rich culture in Filipino food today. Many Filipino people back in the day were Known for going out and fishing for their food and cooking it for dinner in the article the author says “Those culinary connections of various dishes in Filipino cuisine can be found across different continents and oceans” not just relating it to the very popular Filipino fish catching . But also connecting it to the fact that many fishermen went around the world and brought back different ideas to their home so a couple of different cultures are represented within the Filipino food.  So Filipino food is not only rich in taste but also very rich in different cultures.